Sunday, January 29, 2006

January 29th, 1989

Game Winning RBI Retired

My past ratings have included a very brief one on baseball's most inane current statistic, the hold. The hold is awarded to a pitcher who enters a game in a save situation, records an out and leaves without giving up the lead. That's an improvement on the hold's previous rule when a pitcher was credited with one only so long as he had not surrendered the lead, with no regards to whether or not he recorded an out, but still pretty bad.

Of course, compared to the game-winning RBI, the hold is fantastic. At its face, the game-winning RBI seems like a good concept; even if clutch hitting isn't a repeatable skill (a hotly debated topic in baseball circles) it does have value on a year-to-year basis in seeing who drives in the winning run. At the least it would be interesting and fun, if not necessarily useful. The problem was that the statistic was almost absurdly loose in its definition of "game-winning" RBI in that any run that put a team ahead for good was considered game winning. Now, I suppose I have to concede that's true in the absolutely literal sense but that's not really the point. If a guy hits a single in the fourth inning to break-up a 3-3 tie in a game his team goes on to win 7-3 that's not really anyone's idea of clutch, compared to something like hitting a walk-off three-run homer when down by a pair. Moreover, because of the details of the thing, it was possible to accumulate huge numbers of RBIs without ever having a "game-winning" RBI.

On account of all these flaws (plus the element that it was possible, on account of errors and such, to actually win a game with a GW RBI which only makes the stat more absurd) it was retired today despite having been introduced just a few years earlier in 1980. The all-time leader in GW RBI, for what its worth is 'Mex' Keith Hernandez with one hundred and twenty-nine; Hernandez also holds the single-season record of twenty-four, set with the Mets in 1985.

As a postscript, the hold (itself a relatively recent concept; it was invented in 1986) is still not an official MLB statistic--unlike the GW RBI was--and hopefully with Major League Baseball having learned from their previous folly never will become one.

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